Sithonia - Lungo il Sentiero di Pietra. 1989 Camerun. LP only
Sithonia - Spettacolo Annullato. 1992 Mellow
Sithonia - Folla di Passaggio. 1994 Mellow
Sithonia - Confine. 1995 Mellow
Sithonia - Hotel Brun. 1998 Mellow
Sithonia - La Soluzione Semplice. 2011 Lizard
In the fall of 2011, I blogged about two of Sithonia's classic albums listed above. This was in anticipation of their new album "La Soluzione Semplice". But for whatever reason, I didn't end up buying the CD until a year later, and so I'm consolidating those reviews here, along with this new album, to create this band page.
Sithonia were one of the first bands to be a participant of the Italian progressive rock renaissance. Their debut "Lungo il Sentiero di Pietra" (1989) remains without a CD reissue (and is currently listed over on my CDRWL blog). This opening move is not a particularly strong work, but it was released in a much starved time for progressive rock. As would be typical of the early history of the band, the compositions themselves are pretty solid, but the hollow and thin production, along with the late 80s instrumentation, leaves much to be desired.
However by 1992, the band had progressed significantly and "Spettacolo Annullato" is a fine example of the early 1990's progressive rock sound. In some ways, the band succeeds despite itself. The guitarist plays in that annoying pseudo-metal riffing style, stopping just short of actually being balls-out metal (which would be far more preferable actually), with plenty of pig squeal guitar leads to send everyone racing from the room covering their ears. Worse are the digital keyboards, a set of plastic wonders that A Flock of Seagulls most assuredly would enjoy playing.
With that bit of grime out of the way, let's focus on why the album works. Primarily it's the compositions themselves, which are incredibly well thought-out while constantly on the move, in that classic early 1970's Italian style. There is quite a bit of thematic development as driven by the fantastic acoustic piano work, and the melodies are in your mind long after the music has stopped. With the right editing, and other factors, some of these songs could have been major label radio hits. But perhaps best of all is new vocalist Marco Giovannini's performance. What an outstanding impassioned display he gives here - some of the finest from the Italian progressive rock scene.
I rarely vote for re-recordings, but I would love to hear Sithonia record this album with a instrument setup of all analog gear and perhaps a bit more crispness during the recording. It should prove to be a masterpiece.
I skipped over "Folla di Passaggio", which is a live album, and that brings us to the next excellent Sithonia album "Confine".
On the "Spettacolo Annullato" review, I mentioned that it would be interesting to hear that album with a more modern (and analog) recording. In some ways "Confine" is that album. Not quite what I would expect from a band today, but at least this effort from 1995 has more heft than its predecessor. Especially surrounding the guitar sound, which when in riffing mode, at least gives off a whiff of true heavy metal. Make no mistake, Sithonia aren't a progressive metal band, but at least if they're going to use a heavier tone, give it a little muscle - and they did. The keyboards are still digital, but are somehow mixed a little further back and the sound is a bit better as a result. On the down side, I don't think Giovannini's vocal performance is as inspired as on "Spettacolo Annullato", and the compositions aren't as memorable or as deep. Perhaps they're letting the production be the star, like we see in the movie industry (who needs plot when we have SPECIAL EFFECTS). However, there is no question they manage to capture the spirit of the best themes from their past display. On the whole, "Confine" is a very good album.
While it's been years since I heard "Hotel Brun", I did recall it being lackluster and I sold it many moons ago. As I read others' reviews and ratings, it seems that my viewpoint is shared by many.
So that gets us to Sithonia's latest effort "La Soluzione Semplice". It's a rare case indeed when a band that possesses a full 6 piece membership reforms after 13 years with all attendees still accounted for and present. Perhaps even more surprising is that it sounds like Sithonia picked right up where "Confine" left off, especially from a compositional standpoint. And, best of all, this time the band showed up with some old-fashioned analog gear, allowing Sithonia to showcase their immense songwriting talents with the proper (or preferred I should say) instrumentation. So I had asked the question in my "Spettacolo Annullato" review what that album would've sounded like with a less tinny and digital sound. And we get our partial answer here. It's different material, but the style is similar, and thus I think we know that the album in question would benefit with the addition of organ and mellotron, as presented here. Not to mention the fatter production.
All the trademark sounds of Sithonia are present: Great songwriting, an impassioned vocal performance (appropriately done in Italian), and excellent instrumental work which also now benefits from a larger palette of sounds to choose from.
In short, "La Soluzione Semplice" is Sithonia's best album to date. Quite a remarkable achievement for a band that was gathering mothballs for over a decade. Let's hope they continue this reunion with another effort!